MARIBOR, Slovenia – Denmark won the 2011 IIHF World U18 Championship Division I Group B on Saturday and the right to move back to the top division, where it last played in 2008.
After failing to win a Division I event for two straight years, it looked like more of the same on the opening day when both favourites suffered surprising defeats.
Denmark lost to fourth-seeded France, 2-1, despite a 36-11 shots-on-goal advantage. Kristoffer Lauridsen scored the opening goal while his team was playing shorthanded. But France turned the game around with markers from Nicolas Thos and Marius Serer, plus 35 saves from netminder Antoine Bonvalot.
An even bigger surprise came later when last year’s top-division team Belarus met host Slovenia, just promoted from Division II. The Belarusians dominated the first period and earned a 2-0 lead, but Slovenia got stronger after the first intermission. Slovenia tied it up, 2-2, and 3-3, before captain Miha Pesjak scored the 4-3 game-winning goal 10:29 into the third period.
The two surprise teams continued to impress as France defeated Belarus 4-3 in a shootout on the second day, while Slovenia edged Poland 2-0.
Meanwhile Denmark found its way onto the winning track. After expected wins against Korea (16-2) and Poland (6-2), the Danes had a key game against the surprising Slovenes. Denmark’s 4-1 victory in front of 870 fans proved to be the first and only defeat of the Bojan Zajc-coached home side.
Now the Danes had their destiny in their own hands, as three points in their last game would be enough to win the tournament thanks to the head-to-head win against Slovenia.
Easier said than done, though, as Belarus gave it all in their last game after a disappointing overall outing.
Denmark gained the lead three times with two goals from Thomas Spelling and Nicolai Meyer, but each time the Belarusians answered with an equalizer.
The shots, 27-24 in favour of Belarus, showed how tight the game was, but eventually Patrick Russell regained the lead for Denmark 15:20 into the third period. It was the last goal of the game – the golden goal that put Denmark into the top division next year in Switzerland.
Slovenia, which also collected 12 points, had to settle with silver after its astonishing performance. It was still a great comeback after two years in Division II, and marked the sixth time the Slovenes have won U18 Division I silver.
France finished the event with the bronze medals, ahead of Belarus and Poland. Korea was outperformed in most of the games and finished in last place.
1. Denmark 12
2. Slovenia 12
3. France 8
4. Belarus 7
5. Poland 6
6. Korea 0
Individual Awards as selected by the Tournament Directorate:
Best Goalkeeper: Antoine Bonvalot, France
Best Defenceman: Anders Thode, Denmark
Best Forward: Patrick Russell, Denmark